21st May2019

‘American Fugitive’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

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We are a bit starved for more ‘realistic’ open world games on the Switch and American Fugitive, with its isometric sandbox action, fits the bill perfectly, however a few technical snags affect what could have been a GOTY contender for me.

In American Fugitive you play Will, wrongly accused of murdering his father (and in my case, whilst wearing a white cotton dress) he escapes from prison (in the prologue!) and heads out to clear his name and prove his innocence….whilst on a heady rampage of theft and murder.

Presented in a top-down / isometric viewpoint (the camera is quite natural and loose, which works perfectly), American Fugitive gives you complete freedom to roam around the Southern town of Red Rock County, looting and thieving to your heart’s content, as long as you can stay ahead of the law. Visually, the game has a surprising amount of details in the zoomed-out graphics and the music is a joy to behold, from BB King-esque blues licks to Ry Cooder-style dirty slide guitar, you can almost reach out and hold the tumbleweed in your calloused, tanned hands. The characters are also quite memorable and it is easy to keep a mental track of the main players in the game as you peg it from mission to mission getting slowly closer to solving your father’s murder

A big part of American Fugitive is in breaking and entering, whether just for fun, to gain cash or perhaps as part of a mission, you’ll be smashing your way into many a home, tying up the owners and making off with their silverware (or perhaps just a few paperweights and vases). When this section of the game kicks in, the view changes to a birds-eye view layout of the building with your character’s portrait representing his current location. The police will arrive in a certain amount of time and you need to move from room to room, spending precious seconds searching for valuables, if you make it out with time to spare, you’ll be long gone before the cops arrive but if you overstay your welcome, you’ll need to shoot your way free.

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The game does show it’s budgetary limitations in certain areas but that’s mostly of little consequence, there isn’t a massive deal of variation in weapons and cars (although there is a neat little upgrade system in place that uses a combination of mission rewards and cold, hard cash) and the initial play area may seem quite small to those used to huge, sprawling open worlds but I feel that American Fugitive uses its space very well and the Neo Scavenger-like building search mechanics, weighty, satisfying vehicles and RPG-like inventory system were right up my strasse. In fact, aside from two glitches that required a re-load (my guns stopped firing and I couldn’t enter the pawn shop to complete a mission, both minor irritations but nothing a quick re-load couldn’t solve) my major gripe is sadly one that flows throughout the entire game, the frame rate.

I reviewed the Switch version and I have read interviews with the developers that state that the PS4 version runs at a solid 30 fps but this is sadly just not the case on the Switch. The frame rate gets so jerky when in motion (especially at high speeds) that driving becomes a chore, I ended up stealing vans and trucks just to make the driving sections easier as they were far slower. In fact, the only time that the game feels truly smooth is when you are sneaking around, when the action gets hot on the screen or you are pelting at top speed in a muscle car, steering and avoiding other vehicles and objects becomes almost impossible, especially when in docked mode where the problem is exacerbated.

There really is a lot to love here, from hidden stash boxes to find and time trials to complete, the story is pretty direct but it is such fun making your way through it that you don’t need a branching, complex narrative structure…just more reasons to steal and sneak your way around the town. There’s a wry sense of humour that comes through interactions and animations that I found really charming and the twin-stick shooting mechanics are nicely implemented, making shootouts a joyous affair.

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If a patch is released soon that solves the frame-rate issue and the other annoyances, then American Fugitive is clearly a game that will end up on my GOTY list as its just flat-out fun to play (my partner also got in on the action as I was playing for review). If however the choppiness goes unfixed, it really does feel like a missed opportunity for a tasty sandbox title on the Switch with a more realistic tone to separate it from the also-available Shakedown Hawaii.

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